Jul. 25–FORT WORTH, Texas — Less than two hours south of Ardmore sits one massive economic dream on steroids. Its beginnings are not so different from where Ardmore Industrial Airpark is today.
Over the past two decades, a plan to stimulate the economy with a private air strip has turned AllianceTexas into an industrial mecca, with more than 140 businesses, a busy airport for private, cargo and military planes, a residential community, retail shopping, schools … and the list goes on.
The announcement that Chinas Nanjing Automobile Group Corp. will build MG autos near the Ardmore airport caused local officials to imagine the possibilities and look to AllianceTexas as a possible model.
Ardmore Development Authority President Wes Stucky said reaching the scale of Alliance, with all of its frills, probably is not a feasible goal. But after recently landing the Nanjing plant, which will build the MG TF Coupe and employ 350 at the airpark, Ardmore may be entering a bigger league.
Ardmore Industrial Airpark is not as strategically located to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex as Alliance, but with the same immediate access to a major rail line and to Interstate 35, its potential is clear.
So how did it happen at AllianceTexas, where 63 Fortune 500 companies do business alongside residential communities, retail shopping, and multimillion homes where a dozen or so professional golfers and athletes live, and where schools, restaurants, shopping strips are located?
First, there was land — lots of land.
In the early 1980s, Ross Perot Jr. bought 5,000 acres along Interstate 35W, just north of Fort Worth.
At that time, Fort Worth was in an economic slump. Job losses were mounting, a military base closed. The city desperately needed a boost, said Dave Pelletier, spokesman for Hillwood, Alliances developer.
The Federal Aviation Administration also needed a reliever airport where small, private planes could land. Perot was asked about developing his acreage.
When defense and aerospace contractors suggested a full-size airport to handle cargo planes for their industry, Pelletier said, the idea took off.
The City of Fort Worth, the FAA, the Texas Transportation Department and Hillwood — Perots development firm — formed an alliance to finance and build an industrial airpark that could handle cargo planes. Thus, the name AllianceTexas.
It was envisioned as an air cargo, air traffic facility, Pelletier said. I dont think anyone envisioned what it turned into.
Back then, Alliance all but ignored the rail line sitting on the west side of its property.
That rail line, which services Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight, is similar to the line that runs through Ardmore Industrial Airpark.
At Alliance, rail caught the eye of national distribution centers that use intermodal transportation — that is, taking imported products from U.S. seaports, loading them onto flatbed rail cars, then using a crane to slip the containers onto the back of tractor-trailer rigs heading onto I- 35 for distribution.
In 1990 came the big score: American Airlines maintenance plant with hangars that can house seven Boeing 777 wide-body jets at once.
That was really the deal that gave a lot of legitimacy to the development, Pelletier said.
In 1994, Alliance created the intermodal yard, which became a hub for new automobiles to arrive by rail. Distribution centers, such as J.C. Penneys 1.2 million-square-foot automated building, moved in because of rail access.
Once an afterthought, the rail line now has a crane that offloads 600,000 rail cars a year. As Asian imports increase, Pelletier said they expect 1 million offloads by 2010.
In 1997, Federal Express located one of its three national hubs at AllianceTexas.
Caremark, a pharmaceutical company, keeps pharmacists working late to fill prescriptions that are then driven to FedExs overnight sorting plant.
Most companies had special needs. Bell Helicopters Customer Service
Center, for example, needed helicopter pads outside its doors so they could teach the individuals who bought them how to fly.
Servicing corporate jets is no small matter either. The ExxonMobil center topped a national competition in how it services private jet arrivals. The center frequently has rental cars waiting for them on the tarmac.
Next door is Texas Motor Speedway, which fills the tarmac with about 400 private jets on a NASCAR race week.
Now 17,000 acres, Alliance is only 35 percent complete. AllianceTexas companies employ 24,000 and have an area economic impact of $26 billion.
Stucky envisions Ardmore Industrial Airpark developing much like Alliance, only smaller and without the frills.
Ardmore Industrial Airpark has 3,300 acres and 12 businesses so far. The airparks runway is being extended from 7,220 feet to 9,000 feet, while Alliance is expanding its runway from 9,000 to 11,000 feet to handle larger cargo planes.
Quality of living is always a consideration, so Stucky said some may prefer a less congested town like Ardmore, which is still within reasonable distance from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
“I anticipate that you will see in the future more companies like MG supporting that,” Stucky said.
And with AllianceTexas right down the interstate, Ardmore can learn a few tricks of the trade as well.